Hedgehogs, Foxes—and Cats

Isaiah Berlin made famous Archilolochus’ distinction between hedgehogs (who know one big thing) and foxes (who know many things). Philip Tetlock showed that when it comes to complex domains, hedgehogs do a little worse than foxes. (His foxes have many other endearing attributes, though, so the comparison isn’t quite fair.)

But Aesop shows the downside of vulpine reasoning:

A fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. “I have a whole bag of tricks,” he said, “which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies.”

“I have only one,” said the Cat; “but I can generally manage with that.”

Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs. “This is my plan,” said the Cat. “What are you going to do?”

The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen.

Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said, “Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.”